This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. So what can you do in Leicestershire or nearby - a stay, play, explore deal with one night away helps a mum and teenage daughter explore new worlds and learn about the space race. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).
|Nell poses at the National Space Centre. (c) aroundbritainnoplane/nicola baird|
On 14 June 2015 the Philae comet lander woke up after a seven months silence and contacted the European Space Agency - helping the Rosetta Space Mission push frontiers 300 million miles away from Earth.
As I was growing up the space race was an ever-constant part of the news.
We even had mini models of astronauts in our breakfast cereal.
I’ve always talked a bit of science to my kids, particularly on environmental issues, while their Dad does the space chats. But as we use solar thermal to heat our water in the summer (on sunny days) we were quite amused that poor Philae couldn’t operate until its solar panels received enough sunlight to power up.
Solar is great, but you do have to adapt to nature’s rhythms wherever you are in the solar system.
And so as the Philae sends its message home, my 14-year-old daughter, Nell, and I are exploring the National Space Centre in Leicester. This strange looking £52-million building, designed by Grimshaw, has become a Leicester skyline landmark since it was completed in 2001. It’s at least six storeys high and inside there are two rockets, one from the US and one from the USSR (which was then known as CCCP). More on wikipedia here.
Nell was captivated by the National Space Centre, probably because of its mix of inter-active scientific process and historical story-telling. We arrived just in time for the first (free) film, We are aliens, narrated by Rupert Grint who is Ron in Harry Potter and shown in the planetarium. The film set the tone perfectly, encouraging us to explore space by trying out all the centre’s gadgets. There were lots of young families, but also a large party of young people with special needs, and me and my teen yet it seemed that all of us were kept interested and few of us had to queue to have-a-go – quite a triumph of exhibition planning.
Soon I was reading words like infra red wavelengths, microorganisms, scale model with proper understanding and not even laughing at acronyms such as ELT (extremely large telescope).
Nell was happy redesigning her face via a computer so she looked like an alien (I can see this would make a good Zoella vlog), and then testing to see if she could join the space programme as a pilot.
We’d spent two hours and were feeling very scientific… and then we realised we hadn’t yet been to see the rockets (see pic above).
|Look closely at the logo - it's the horn and the hoof.|
First triumph was Nell working out that the old Soviet symbol was parodied by George Orwell in Animal Farm (a book Year 9 reads at school) as the sign of the horn and the hoof. The exhibit in the National Space Centre tower is about the space race – triumphs and tragedies, especially for the unfortunate animals who got blasted off including space dog Laika (dies 1957/USSR) and the three space mice (one dies 1958/USA). Then in 1961 Yuri Gagarin (USSR) was the first man to go into space (and come back too), using a rocket that didn’t have a 100 per cent track record. And then there’s the “small step for man… giant leap for mankind” when Neil Armstrong (USA) walks on the moon’s surface in 1969.
The National Space Centre tracks these developments with music, fashion and even home décor. There's even an old style phone that rings so you can have a go answering it. "Hello, hello anyone out there?"
There are a lot of space countdowns and steam, but overall the National Space Centre makes learning so effortless that time whizzes past as your brain expands. I had to drag Nell away – three and a half hours after we’d arrived. Definitely a top choice for any age (yes, even aged 51 I enjoyed making a brass rubbing of an astronaut which I plan to pass to my older daughter should she forget to make a father's day gift).
Getting back to the centre of Leicester was easy too. We just took the bus near Asda - a five minute walk away. Unlike London buses (where I live), Leicester buses have a map of their planned route painted on the inside. It makes journeys into places you've never been, far easier. Anyone coming by car needs £2 to park at the National Space Centre. Now that Leicester city centre is fully pedestrianised, it's a much easier place to navigate and there's also really clear signage.
|Japanese garden and pond at|
the Hilton Leicester. Stay here
as part of the stay-play-expore deal.
As part of the stay-play-explore package that GoLeicester is promoting, see below, and which makes family trips affordable and simple, we went to the National Space Centre, and on the previous day also visited Conkers, a fab play centre where you can build dens and learn to make a fire powerful enough to toast marshmallows on, see the review here.
- National Space Centre, Exploration Drive, Leicester, LE4 - costs £13 for an adult ticket and £11 for a child (5-16). Under 5s are free. Open tues-fri 10-4, sat and sun 10-5.
- Nicola and Nell also stayed at the Hilton Leicester, close to Fosse Park which runs stay – play – explore deals. This 2015 offer costs £129 for 2 adults and 2 children to stay one night at the hotel (B&B)plus free entry to five different activities in Leicestershire including the National Space Centre in Leicester, Conkers, Stonehurst Family Farm, Twinlakes Family Theme Park and Twycross Zoo.